With Hall Gone, Attention Turns To Bledsoe

You win some. You lose some. And some just even out.

Mere hours after getting a commitment from the nation's No. 8 linebacker, Robert Ayers, over home state South Carolina and archrival Florida, Tennessee lost North Carolina's top-rated prospect, Marque Hall, not to North Carolina State or North Carolina as many suspected, but to South Carolina in something of a surprise.

Early playing time was a strong factor in the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Hall's decision and given Tennessee's additions of Jesse Mahelone and Demonte Bolden to a defensive tackle rotation that returns Greg Jones, Justin Harrell and Tony McDaniel, and it's easy to see S.C. had more P.T. Other D-line contenders at UT include a pair of redshirt sophomores LaRon Harris, whose promise has been overshadowed by a variety of problems and, David Ligon, who has spent the better part of three years trying to get healthy.

Mahelone is probably the best run stopper coming out of the junior college ranks this year and Bolden is rated the nation's No. 5 defensive tackle. The Insiders has Hall rated No. 10 nationally and his stock rose rapidly through a senior season that saw him playing 60 pounds lighter than in his junior campaign.

With Hall out of play, the focus is on 6-foot-41/2, 290-pound Fred Bledsoe of Little Rock Central High School, ranked the nation's No. 24 defensive tackle. Bledsoe reportedly runs a 4.79 and his three interceptions as a senior, including one for the game-clinching touchdown in the state's 5A state title game, demonstrated a nose for the football and a knack for the big moment.

Besides defensive tackle or even a possible strong side defensive end, especially in a 3-4 scheme. Beside defense big Fred could be a big target at tight end — quick enough to block linebackers and large enough to go one-on-one with the defensive end.

There's a lot of rumor making the rounds but Bledsoe has tried to keep a cork on it all. Arkansas has come on strong in the stretch and Oklahoma State has recruited him hard since the beginning. But Bledsoe is the type of high-energy talent that could thrive in the high-pressure environment that is Tennessee football. Not bothered by pressure, Bledsoe would stand to reap the rewards and the thought of bringing 108,000 fans to their feet to cheer your feats might be the type of temptation Bledsoe just can't resist.

He loved all of his visits but his first official visit was to Tennessee and that set a standard both Arkansas and Oklahoma State were hard pressed to top. Fred Bledsoe is the type of larger-than-life personality that could comfortably bask in the spotlight. That's why he never took a visit he didn't like — a lot.

Was there any visit he took that topped life as he saw it at Tennessee? We'll know Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. CST. Whatever Bledsoe's decision, expect some real showmanship. The big guy loves a crowd.

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